Criminalisation of sex work is an expression of stigma against sex workers and is opposed by sex workers and sex workers’ rights organisations around the world. In South Africa, the Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement and Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) have continued to advocate for the full decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa, by raising public awareness of the human rights violations suffered by sex workers under the current outdated legal framework.
Regional updates: Africa
Sex workers took to the streets in Kisii, Kenya, demanding action against the killers of their colleague Jescah, known as Msupa Brown. Jescah was reportedly gang-raped before being brutally murdered in December last year. The sex workers, who came from various parts of the country, demonstrated to stand in solidarity with local sex workers following the heinous killings in Kisii.
A Member of Parliament in Malawi, Frank Mwenifumbo, has urged the government to legalise sex work and ensure there are different support systems around it. The MP claimed a lot of people in the country rely on the sex trade. “We see young ladies and young men standing along our streets for this purpose. Why can we not legalise it? We are in denial and yet it is there in the open that we have people depending on commercial sex” he said.
A member of County Assembly for a ward in Nairobi has put forward a motion prohibiting commercial sex in the city, which was passed by a vote on Friday 1st December.
The Sex Workers Academy Africa (SWAA) has held its fifteenth session, with eighteen activists from different countries graduating at a ceremony held in Nairobi in October 2017.
Forty-four Ugandan sex workers were arrested on 14 July, 2017 in Abayita, at a crisis meeting organised in response to a series of brutal murders in the Abayita, Katabi, Nkumba and Nansana areas of Uganda. A report by the Uganda Minister of Internal Affairs indicates that at least 21 women were found brutally murdered between 3 May and 4 September of this year. Many of these women were raped before being killed and had sticks inserted into their genitals. The victims were usually dumped in deserted locations close to their places of residence. Inspector General of the Uganda Police Force Kale Kayihura has reported that the majority of the victims were sex workers.
The Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), an organisation that provides health services to sex workers in Zimbabwe filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court. They were seeking an order to compel Home Affairs minister Igantius Chombo to stop interfering with the sex workers' awareness march. The march was meant to raise awareness around increasing violence against sex workers in Zimbabwe. The application was dismissed by the courts on 6 July 2017. The march was meant to occur in December 2015, but still remains banned.
Sex work is illegal in South Africa. Sex work is criminalised in the Criminal Code, and municipal by-laws also contain provisions that prohibit sex work such as “importuning any person for the purpose of prostitution” and “soliciting”. Sex workers have very little legal protection.
Recently, the Tanzanian government arrested 500 suspected sex workers alongside an estimated 300 alleged clients in a police sweep that took place in March 2017. In the months of March and June 2016, sex worker communities experienced major arrests and harassment. 1,168 sex workers in various hotspots in Tanzania were imprisoned by the state.
Sex workers in Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa have urged the police to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of one of their colleagues in a hotel last month. During a peaceful demonstration in protest to the growing number of killings of sex workers in the area, the sex workers urged the police to act swiftly.